Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Beijing 'bucket list': 10 things to try before you die

A few weeks back, the Beijing edition of City Weekend magazine did a feature on 'Things you have to try before you leave Beijing' (everybody seems to be talking of leaving these days; although with many, perhaps, it is only talk). I found I had done quite a lot of them; and was quite happy not to have done the rest. (How do you fare? Check it out online, Part 1 and Part 2.)

This seemed like a good theme for a 'farewell post' on here, so I thought I'd try to come up with a similar list of my own (with a heavy bias towards drink-related activities, naturally).

Froog's Top Ten Things To Do Before You Leave Beijing

Have a rickshaw race
As I once managed to do with my erstwhile drinking companion The Tedster. It is damned difficult to persuade any of the rickshaw guys to play ball on this. I don't think they'd ever trust a laowai to cycle their precious vehicle themselves. And they can't be persuaded to go all that fast, even when offtered significant financial incentives for a 'win'. But still, we did once manage to find a pair of drivers who were game for it, and we had a race of sorts around Houhai, early in the morning before there were too many people around. This was about 8 years ago; the tourist throngs have grown much denser in that time. It just might not be practicable at all any more.

Startle passers-by with a bullhorn
Gosh, you used to be able to buy them all over the place; and they were ridiculously cheap - less than 30 kuai, I think. The Beijing government tried to ban their use prior to the Olympics (perhaps the one good thing to come out of the city's over-anxious pre-Games prettification campaign; they used to have a record facililty, so virtually all newspaper kiosks and quite a lot of other small shops would set them on endless repeat to advertise their wares - it could get very annoying). My Mancunian teaching colleague Mad Mike bought himself one, and we spent a very silly hour or so riding around the city in a taxi, hailing random cyclists and pedestrians in our bad but impressively amplified Chinese.

Drink all day
Just because you can, in this decadent expat community! I think my record setting performance was probably the day I christened 12 Square Metres' adoption of 12-hour opening by drinking there from noon to something past midnight... and then stopping in at the Pool Bar for another 4 hours or so on the way home.

Set up a barbecue on the street
Again, just because you can in this crazy country (sometimes, just sometimes, the lack of effective regulation is beguiling). The boys from Ned's bar on Nanluoguxiang used to do this pretty regularly, and my artist friend Stephanie had a little 4th July cookout on an alley just off Bell Tower Square a couple of years ago.

Dance in the rain
The challenge with this one is that your opportunities are limited because rain is so infrequent here. And there's also the problem that when it does rain, the rain is so unpleasant - filled with sand and chemicals; causing instant floods and overflowing sewers - that you tend not to feel very jubilant about it. But I certainly have done this a few times here. The one I remember most fondly was in my early days here, outside my favourite drinking haunt of that time, the 'Adventure Bar'. I got so over-excited about it because I think it was in fact the first rain that I'd seen in Beijing; we didn't have a drop in the first 10 or 12 weeks I lived here. It soon turned into hail, but I carried on dancing anyway, channelling the spirit of Gene Kelly. Or perhaps rather of Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise.

Go on a ridiculously excessive bar crawl
I'm not really a fan of bar crawls, on the whole. I much prefer to find one place I'm comfortable in and spend the entire evening there. Three or four different bars is usually about the most I cover in one night, and that only happens because I've been to a music gig somewhere, or am coming back from working or shopping on the east side of town. However, I do like extreme physical challenges. And Beijing, with its handful of dense-packed nightlife areas, provides a rare opportunity to cram in 10 (or 20, or 30) different venues in quick succession. A few years ago, some friends of mine and I did a crawl along the length of Nanluoguxiang (back in the days when it had more bars than boutiques). I have hankered to try and do the same thing with Wudaoying Hutong; but there is no-one who would accompany me any more.

Go sledding on the frozen lakes at midnight
As I did with my best buddy The Choirboy five or six years ago on New Year's morning. We discovered some bicycle sleds that had been left unchained, and went for a mad, drunken race around Qianhai on them.

Stay up all night to go and watch the dawn flag-raising on Tiananmen Square
Now, I've stayed up all night here far too many times, but I've rarely had the stamina to combine it with an early morning stroll down to the Square afterwards. I think the last time was probably 4 or 5 years ago. I do recommend it, though, if the weather's nice.

Shake Ai Weiwei's hand
Whatever you may think of his art, Ai Weiwei is one of the most important, most influential, most admirable figures in China today. Not many people have the courage to jeopardise their freedom and their physical safety by standing up to the Chinese government. Even fewer have used their wealth and privilege to try to give a voice to people and causes that might otherwise be overlooked. I am proud to have stood alongside Ai Weiwei at a demonstration in support of our mutual friend, the unjustly imprisoned artist Wu Yuren.

Take over your favourite bar for a party
Well, I've done this a number of times on my birthday - for the last two or three years at my 'local', 12 Square Metres, and once (perhaps the most alcoholic of all) at the old Zoo Bar on Houhai (cunningly renamed Zoom Bar a few years ago by combining the original sign with one that said 'M Bar'), which was a fun place for the short spell that Jackson Bai was running it. But the biggest and best was surely the year that I hired Salud for the night, and got Big John and Zoe Wang and friends to play their Irish folk tunes for us. It was nearly 24 hours before I got home from that one!

And an extra one, just to give me something to continue to aim for....

Re-enact the 'Tank Man' incident with remote-controlled toy tanks
This has been a pet scheme of mine for ages. Of course, if I did do this, it would almost certainly be the last thing I'd ever do in China.

So, there you have it. And 10 of these 11 things I have in fact done already. So, I think I'm good to go; I can leave Beijing without any regrets. It's been fun - occasionally - but it's well past time for me to try somewhere new.


Mike said...

Only one there - #1, done when in Jiangsu. Much easier to persuade rickshaw drivers in the backwaters than in the mean streets of Beijing! My bar-hopping and all-day drinking days (and nights) are long past though... :(

Froog said...

Who did you race against? And did you win? And did he let you pedal yourself?

If so, I am impressed, and mightily jealous. It's still one for me to cross off, really.

Mike said...

It wasn't pedalled by me - just two of us drunken asshats getting our rickshaw drivers to race back to campus. No idea who won, but I think it was fun for all concerned...